Michael Isikoff

Stories by Michael Isikoff

  • Politics: What's In Howard Dean's Secret Vermont

    As investigative reporters and "oppo" researchers flock to Vermont to dig into Howard Dean's past, they have run into a roadblock. A large chunk of Dean's records as governor are locked in a remote state warehouse--the result of an aggressive legal strategy designed in part to protect Dean from political attacks. Dean--who has blasted the Bush administration for excessive secrecy--candidly acknowledged that politics was a major reason for locking up his own files when he left office last January. He told Vermont Public Radio he was putting a 10-year seal on many of his official papers--four years longer than previous Vermont governors--because of "future political considerations... We didn't want anything embarrassing appearing in the papers at a critical time." "Most of the records are open," said Dean spokes-woman Tricia Enright, adding there is "absolutely not" a "smoking gun" in those for which Dean has claimed "executive privilege." Still, Dean's efforts to keep official papers...
  • Show Me The Money

    For FBI agents in Las Vegas, cases don't get any juicier. Earlier this year the Feds were closing in on Michael Galardi, the city's biggest strip-club baron, who was suspected of bribing local officials. Facing prosecution, Galardi cut a deal and confessed to funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to Clark County commissioners. Galardi told agents that he gave one official $20,000 to help buy a new SUV; another received $400 worth of lap dances at one of his clubs. In exchange, the commissioners had allegedly done Galardi favors, such as spiking a proposed lap-dance ordinance that would have put stricter limits on how much the customers could touch. To make their case, the agents working "Operation G-String" needed to see the financial records of local officials. To do that, the FBI turned to a new weapon in its arsenal: the USA Patriot Act.Whisked through Congress in the weeks after 9/11, the Patriot Act--which gives federal law enforcement wide-ranging powers to track and...
  • Intel: Pdb Battle Heats Up

    The White House is headed for another showdown over PDBs--the President's Daily Briefs on intelligence issues that some aides consider among the most sensitive government documents.NEWSWEEK has learned that, after battling for months over demands by a national commission investigating the 9/11 terror attacks to see PDBs, White House lawyers were angry last week when Senate investigators looking at pre-Iraq- war intelligence pressed to see them as well. The mounting requests have played into the arguments of White House hard-liners who insist any accommodation on PDBs will set a dangerous precedent; one insider calls the documents the "crown jewels" of executive privilege. But political aides are nervous about the perception of stonewalling--and a possible erosion of support on Capitol Hill. Senate intelligence chair Pat Roberts--a strong Bush ally--is now irritated by White House foot-dragging on Iraqi intel documents. Democrats on the panel may push for a subpoena. (The CIA and...
  • Terror Watch: Libel Tourism

    Anxious over allegations of terrorist ties, rich Saudis are trying to silence their critics in court.
  • The Bureau

    Gamal Abdel-Hafiz was once considered one of the FBI's best assets: an Egyptian-born agent who worked big terrorism probes. But last summer Abdel-Hafiz, 44, was fired for allegedly lying about an allegation of long-ago insurance fraud. Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, Abdel-Hafiz is preparing a lawsuit that could expose deep cultural tensions within the FBI. Abdel-Hafiz's core charge: that he was "hit in the back" by fellow agents who mistrusted him because of his Muslim faith.Abdel-Hafiz's case is especially sensitive because of the paucity of Muslim agents; sources say there are only about a half dozen out of an agent force of 11,500. (Only 21 agents are proficient in Arabic.) FBI officials acknowledge they desperately need more--and used to point to Abdel-Hafiz as one reason why. Serving last year as FBI deputy legal attache in Riyadh, Abdel-Hafiz got a crucial confession that led to the arrest of six Buffalo, N.Y.-area men who had attended a Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. "You couldn't...
  • Terror Watch: Faa Foot Dragging?

    The commission investigating the September 11 attacks wants the FAA to turn over all the evidence it has--once and for all.
  • Secrets And Leaks

    In Washington, so-called leak investigations--formal inquiries by the Justice Department into the publication of classified information--are like endless replays of the movie "Casablanca": the authorities round up the usual suspects, nothing much happens, and life goes on. Without leaks, arguably, the U.S. government could not function. Trial balloons could not be floated, political scores could not be settled, wrongs would go unexposed, policy could not be made. It is against the law to reveal government secrets that might harm national security, but as a practical matter, journalists (protected by the First Amendment) are very rarely pressed to reveal their sources. Leak investigations are launched about every other week in Washington, but only occasionally is the leaker caught, and it has been two decades since anyone was criminally punished.It's not likely that anyone will go to jail for outing Valerie Plame Wilson as an undercover spy for the Central Intelligence Agency. But...
  • Pentagon: Defense's Whitewater Hire

    The Bush Administration has quietly installed a surprising figure in a high-level Pentagon post: L. Jean Lewis, the former federal fraud investigator who kicked up major controversy in the '90s over her allegations about the Clintons' Whitewater dealings. Although there's been no public announcement of her return to government, Lewis has been given a $118,000-a-year job as chief of staff in the traditionally nonpartisan Defense Department's inspector general office. With 1,240 employees and a budget of $160 million, this office is the largest of its kind in the government. It investigates fraud and audits Pentagon contracts, including the billions of dollars being awarded in Iraq to companies like Halliburton and Bechtel.As an investigator for the now defunct Resolution Trust Corp. in 1993, Lewis drafted a criminal referral alleging illegal Whitewater dealings that eventually became the basis for Ken Starr's probe. Republicans praised Lewis as a whistle-blower; Democrats blasted her...
  • Al-Jazeera: Too Close To Terrorists?

    How does Al-Jazeera keep getting scoops like last week's Osama bin Laden video? Editors at the Qatar-based Arab TV network won't say. "If I told you we received the tape bye-mail, then they'd start tapping all of Al-Jazeera's e-mails tomorrow," says one top editor. But questions persist about just how tight some of the network's correspondents may be with terrorists: an investigation in Spain has led to the imprisonment of a top reporter on charges that he conspired with some of that country's most notorious Qaeda suspects.The reporter, Tayssir Alouni, a native of Syria, gained brief fame two years ago when, as Al-Jazeera's Kabul bureau chief, he got the first interview of bin Laden taking responsibility for 9/11. (Alouni says he scored the interview after being led, blindfolded, to a bin Laden hideaway.) But internal Spanish police documents obtained by NEWSWEEK show that Alouni, 48, has been under scrutiny since at least early 2000, when phone wiretaps revealed he was in "frequent...
  • Terror Watch: Jihad's Long Reach

    A 75-year-old radical organization that intelligence agencies had once discounted is very much alive--and in Al Qaeda's corner.
  • Failure To Communicate

    The Congressional Probe Of 9/11 Suggests The Attacks Could Have Been Prevented. Who's To Blame? And What Did The Saudis Know? More Than The Bushies Will Admit
  • Terror Watch: Financing Terror?

    The Saudi Government says it has cracked down on Islamic extremists. But new allegations suggest Riyadh has increased its support for Hamas. Plus, American efforts to shut down a source of funding for terrorists may be faltering.
  • Exclusive: The 9-11 Report: Slamming The Fbi

    The FBI blew repeated chances to uncover the 9-11 plot because it failed to aggressively investigate evidence of Al Qaeda's presence in the United States, especially in the San Diego area, where two of the hijackers were living with one of the bureau's own informants, according to the congressional report set for release this week.The long-delayed 900-page report also contains potentially explosive new evidence suggesting that Omar al-Bayoumi, a key associate of two of the hijackers, may have been a Saudi-government agent, sources tell NEWSWEEK. The report documents extensive ties between al-Bayoumi and the hijackers. But the bureau never kept tabs on al-Bayoumi--despite receiving prior information he was a secret Saudi agent, the report says. In January 2000, al-Bayoumi had a meeting at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles--and then went directly to a restaurant where he met future hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, whom he took back with him to San Diego. (Al-Bayoumi...
  • Follow The Yellowcake Road

    Did it start with a break-in? On the morning of Jan. 2, 2001, Italian police discovered that the Niger Embassy in Rome had been ransacked. Not much was reported missing--only a watch and two bottles of perfume--but someone had apparently rifled through embassy papers, leaving them strewn about the floor. Some months after the break-in, the Italian intelligence service--the SISME--obtained a stack of official-looking documents from an African diplomat. Signed by officials of the government of Niger, the papers revealed what purported to be a deal with the Devil. Agents of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, it appeared, were angling to purchase from the cash-starved, mineral-rich African nation some 500 tons of yellowcake, the pure uranium that can be used to build nuclear bombs. Excited by their intelligence coup, the Italians quickly notified the CIA and British intelligence.A bombshell in the war on terrorism? More like an exploding cigar. The documents, a series of letters dated from...
  • Terror Watch: Bbc To Put Blair On Hot Seat

    The British state-funded broadcasting network intends to demonstrate the truth of its controversial claims. Plus, George Tenet isn't out of the woods yet.
  • A Spy Takes The Bullet

    Easygoing and engaging, CIA Director George Tenet has long been known as an accomplished Washington schmoozer with a knack for ingratiating himself with his political bosses. A veteran Capitol Hill aide picked by Bill Clinton six years ago to be the country's top spy, Tenet presciently earned the gratitude of George W. Bush even before he was elected president. In 1999, Tenet presided over an emotional ceremony renaming the CIA's Virginia headquarters after Bush's father. When W was elected, he let Tenet keep his job. Bush was impressed with his gung-ho attitude. They swapped baseball stories and capital gossip. After September 11, Bush depended on Tenet to translate the barrage of murky intelligence.But last week Tenet abruptly discovered the limits of his political skills, and of his friendship with Bush. After weeks of ducking uncomfortable questions about the administration's mishandling of intelligence during the run-up to the Iraq war--did the president and his advisers hype...
  • Terror Watch: Enter The FBI

    Bureau to conduct its own investigation into the documents that linked Iraq with Niger and uranium.
  • A Four-Star President?

    Does the already crowded Democratic presidential race have room for another entry? Wesley Clark is seriously teasing the field. "I'm thinking about it," Clark tells NEWSWEEK. He expects to make his decision in a "couple of months." The retired four-star general turned investment banker had intense discussions with Senate leaders during a recent foray to Capitol Hill and is getting new encouragement; a Draft Wesley Clark committee will start running radio ads in Iowa and New Hampshire this week, touting the commander of the war in Kosovo as a modern-day Eisenhower. (Like Ike, Clark bemoans the lack of "teamwork" in Washington, and boosters say he brings impressive national-security credentials to the field.)Many party insiders say Clark is really playing another game: angling for the vice presidential nomination. According to this analysis, Clark can't possibly raise the money to sustain a candidacy this late in the game. "It's preposterous," sniffs one rival strategist. (The same...
  • Terror Watch: Distorted Intelligence?

    Secret German records cast doubt on the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection. Plus, why Qatar is footing the legal bills for an 'enemy combatant.'
  • Terror Watch: America's Secret Prisoners

    To fight the war on terror, the U.S. government is holding some suspects in 'limbo detention.' plus, authorities may be have an important terrorist plotter in Guantanamo Bay after all.
  • We're In The Money

    Mobilizing his new elite team of moneymen known as the Rangers, President George W. Bush is about to kick off a two-week fund-raising blitz that aides say will shatter existing records, putting them on track to nearly double the $100 million they raked in during the 2000 campaign. The intense money tour begins in Washington on June 17 with a $2,000-a-ticket cocktail reception. A lineup of power lobbyists--including those representing the U.S. Oil and Gas Association, the Edison Electric Institute, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and many others--are among the event co-chairs. Bush will also fly off to fund-raisers in New York, California, Florida, Georgia and possibly Ohio. Local Republican officeholders are besieging the Bushies to add more events. "You can't believe how motivated the base is right now," says one top GOP moneyman, citing tax cuts and the toppling of Saddam Hussein. "You've got to strike while the fire is hot."The fund-raising frenzy underscores the Bush team's...
  • Terror Watch: Lingering Questions

    The families of 9-11 victims are still raising pertinent issues about the intelligence failures that led to the attack. Plus, is Washington hyping the Qaeda threat?
  • Terror Watch: Agent Turned Author Defies Cia

    Robert Baer has rankled the CIA by disclosing 'secret intelligence information' in his new book. And he's not changing a word. Plus, is John Ashcroft ducking the press?
  • Censoring The Report About 9-11?

    Why is the Bush administration blocking the release of an 800-page congressional report about 9-11? The bipartisan report deals with law-enforcement and intelligence failures that preceded the attacks. For months, congressional leaders and administration officials have battled over declassifying the document, preventing a public release once slated for this week. NEWSWEEK has learned new details about the dispute. Among the portions of the report the administration refuses to declassify, sources say, are chapters dealing with two politically and diplomatically sensitive issues: the details of daily intelligence briefings given to Bush in the summer of 2001 and evidence pointing to Saudi government ties to Al Qaeda. Bush officials have taken such a hard line, sources say, that they're refusing to permit the release of matters already in the public domain--including the existence of intelligence documents referred to on the CIA Web site.One document is called the PDB, the President's...
  • Terror Watch: Code Orange

    Why Washington reluctantly raised the terror alert. Plus, a bureaucratic victory for the FBI.